The storytelling in Star Wars is breathtaking. There are so many aspects that blend together to create the storyline. Not just the plot, the characters, and their backgrounds, the worldbuilding, etc., but also the way the music helps to tell the story. John Williams is a composer genius, and the soundtrack he creates doesn’t just help the stories in Star Wars move along. It doesn’t just complement it. It is a magic on its own. After years of listening to the Star Wars soundtrack, whether I’m paying attention or not paying attention, something will always pop out at me as worthy of notetaking. Here’s some things I’ve recognized in the brilliance called the Star Wars film score.
The end credits track for Episode III ties everything together
Usually each Star Wars end credits song is a medley of the theme tunes from that Star Wars movie. For example, The Phantom Menace end credit song incorporates new tunes played in that movie like “Duel of the Fates,” and “Anakin’s Theme.” This is the same for every Star Wars movie, but Revenge of the Sith end credits is an exception. I was driving home from work when the melody of “The Throne Room” from A New Hope started randomly playing on shuffle. And then it hit me: The Revenge of the Sith end credits medley tied the two trilogies together. Tunes from A New Hope, such as “The Throne Room,” played in the end credits for Episode III, as if foretelling the events that would soon take place in the first Star Wars movie that came out: that Luke, the Chosen One, the “new hope” would restore the balance his father had damaged—except we already know what those events are.
This blew me away. The End Credits song from Episode III, in using tunes from A New Hope (which chronologically happens after Revenge of the Sith) reminds us of what happens when Vader’s son is trained to become a Jedi and follow in his father’s footsteps—until he creates the fork in the road and doesn’t follow the Dark Side like his father. I sat there, driving, and nearly forgetting where I was headed when I was thinking about all this. It’s just another example of the genius of the storytelling in Star Wars and the genius of John Williams.
Every Main Title opening track is different
John Williams doesn’t just cut the original opening “war drums” from A New Hope and paste it to the beginning of every other Star Wars movie he’s composed for. He rewrites each main theme/title for each movie, and there is recognizable variations in each. For example, Return of the Jedi main titles have a drum blast in the very beginning; Revenge of the Sith does not. Main titles for Empire Strikes Back sounds very different, and even maybe a bit slower, than titles for A New Hope. And if you’ll listen long enough—about a minute or so into each main title—the opening melody takes an entirely different direction. Some are more slurred, with many instruments running into each other to make a smooth entrance, and others are more clear, with chimes and strings holding a constant tone while the brass takes it away.
Rogue One started the same way A New Hope Began—not just film wise, but music wise.
1:00 in the track “Hope” from Rogue One is the melody first known as the beginning of the track “Imperial Attack” from A New Hope. “Imperial Attack” is the first song that plays right after the main titles in New Hope—right after. And the melody we ended with in Rogue One was that “Imperial Attack” melody (because there was an Imperial Attack right before the plans were handed to Leia) as well as a snippet of Leia’s Theme, right before the End Credits for Rogue One. Star Wars is so amazing, you guys. Just compare the last scene of Rogue One and the first scene of A New Hope and you will be wowed.
I feel like John Williams’s storytelling with music is underrated. His ability to help create Star Wars as it is is truly remarkable, and each soundtrack is worth the time and effort of researching, listening to, analyzing, and going to all extremes of appreciation. His composing techniques and musical style really stand out, especially in the Star Wars soundtrack as well. Here are a few random fun facts about the technical side of the film score.
John Williams wrote each Main Title to be in the same key as the 20th Century Fox Fanfare
The 20th Century Fox was originally composed by Alfred Newman (father of the composer Thomas Newman), and one of John Williams’s first moves was to write the main title for A New Hope in the same key as the 20th Century Fox, which was originally meant as an “extension” of the fanfare. The tradition was kept for the rest of the Star Wars movies he composed for.
“Augie’s Great Municipal Band” is the Emperor’s Theme song in a Major key
A little key change can twist and trick a lot. Originally, I wouldn’t have thought to compare these two tracks together, but when listening to them side by side, I can definitely pick out the same tune in a very different key. “Augie’s Great Municipal Band,” therefore, is sort of like a fortelling of what will happen in the near future. Ah! There’s more of John Williams’s genius for you.
There are leitmotifs everywhere
A leitmotif is basically a theme tune, used to signify and complement a certain character, place, theme, mood, or any certain part of the plot in the movie. For example, Leia, Luke, Darth Vader, Yoda, and Rey are Star Wars characters with their own theme songs. Another aspect of the leitmotif is that throughout the movie, those theme melodies are played with many different variations. An example of a leitmotif in use is when the Imperial March melody, which is generally known as Darth Vader’s theme, plays in The Phantom Menace, as it is being used as a storytelling tool to foreshadow what will come. ISN’T THAT GENIUS?!?! John Williams uses leitmotifs a lot, and if you become an avid listener of the Star Wars soundtrack, you’ll become familiar with each theme tune and pick out variations of those tunes throughout the movie. And, if you really want to, you could call each End Credits track Leitmotif Central, since the majority of the main theme tunes used in that movie is combined in that one song.
That’s it for now! There are so many cool and important aspects about the Star Wars soundtrack, there would be no way to cover them all. And I’m still stumbling upon moments of revelation when listening to the film score or watching the movies. What are some of your favorite Star Wars tracks? What about the soundtrack stands out to you compared to other movies’ soundtracks? Feel free to just rant about John Williams and how amazing he is. I’ll rant in reply. :D Cheers!